Friday, June 23, 2017

Blood Money

To deter refugees from reaching its shores, Australia has a policy of mandatory detention of asylum seekers. Unauthorised boat arrivals are sent to Australian-run camps on Nauru or Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, without the prospect of resettlement in Australia. Last week, the Australian Government settled a class action brought on behalf of 1950 people who have been detained on Manus Island by agreeing to pay AUD$70 million, likely the largest human rights settlement in Australian history. But money cannot make good their suffering. The UN, the Australian Human Rights Commission, and others have detailed the disgraceful human cost of this policy.

 Arbitrary and indefinite detention has caused detainees severe mental anguish and suffering, which has been compounded by an insufficient medical care and unsafe living arrangements. The full extent of this tragedy is beyond enumeration here, but includes high rates of self-harm and suicide attempts, including by children; sexual and physical abuse of adults and children by guards and other detainees; the murder of Reza Berati on Manus Island in 2014; the death of Hamid Kehazaei by sepsis following delayed medical transfer from Manus Island in 2014; and the self-immolation of two detainees on Nauru in 2016. Amnesty International's 2016 conclusion that “the Australian Government has set up a deliberate system of abuse” is plain.

The Australian Government asserts—without evidence—that this policy is the only effective strategy to protect the nation's borders from “illegal” and potentially dangerous arrivals, and to prevent further deaths at sea. The claim that the lives of these men, women, and children are the cost of national security or somehow serve an altruistic purpose is perverse.

In April, 2017, the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants reported that Australia must immediately close the camps, swiftly process all outstanding claims on the Australian mainland, and implement a rights-based approach to migration. 

From The Lancet


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